Lex lives in her van. That was loosely the plan, to be fair, but not like this.
In the midst of the pandemic, she and her then wife, a traveling nurse, planned to move into a bus and follow her wife’s gigs around the country. Hashtag vanlife and all that. As they tend to, things didn’t go as planned.
“We were going to be in a bus, and then my wife decided to not be my wife anymore. And then shit got crazy. Well, shit got pandemic,” Lex said.
Her wife was the breadwinner, Lex said, leaving her in the lurch. That led to a different kind of vanlife, in a “cozy” spot over by the Home Depot on Delridge Way Southwest. Her stay there lasted until a caseworker from REACH convinced Lex to move into the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) Camp Second Chance. She agreed to, both because she desperately missed having access to a shower and because she thought it would give her some time to fix up the van.
Things soured early, she said, when she was confronted by the camp’s site manager for using cannabis in her van.
“I hang out in my van [a lot] — plus it’s a cool-ass van, bitching van — and started smoking weed and she’s all, ‘Well, it looks like you’re smoking drugs that [need] two lighters.’ I don’t even know what that means. Like, drugs with two lighters? I’m smoking weed, and it’s legal. I don’t care what it looks like,” Lex said.
Lex said the manager told her that it “doesn’t look very good” and added that another camp resident had told her it was an issue, to which Lex retorted, “Okay, well, I guess I’m not trying to make many friends.”
The manager’s response, Lex said, was what really put them on bad footing.
According to Lex, “She said, ‘Well, good, this is not your home.’ And I’m like, it totally is. It is my home.”
From there, things went downhill pretty quickly, which is why Lex lives in her van again. Hew new spot is less cozy than the one on Delridge, being the dirt parking lot in front of the tiny home village she was evicted from May 8.
Lex was provided with a dated list of infractions that led up to the eviction just 15 minutes before being barred from the camp, she said, separating her from her belongings and pet cat, Wyn.
“Most of them are accurate,” Lex admitted. “However, I received no notification of them, and most of them are about speech.”
The list of violations includes allegations of abusive behavior, as well as two instances of homophobic speech and one instance of racist speech. Lex said she’s never used a racial slur or said anything racist but admitted she had used a homophobic epithet traditionally directed towards gay men once or twice.
Two allegations are related to having visitors. One was her REACH case manager, Lex said, while the other was her cousin, who was having a migraine and needed to lie down. Management called the cops the second time, and Lex refused to admit them, as she had not committed any crime, she said. A case number for that incident was provided to Lex as part of her eviction notice.
Lex was frustrated that Camp Second Chance does not allow visitors, alleging that “they just don’t want people to see what’s going on in there.”
The conditions of the camp were embarrassing, she added: the kitchen was lacking any burner surface, the gas grills were out of propane and access to clean plates and kitchenware was restricted.
Sharon Lee, LIHI’s executive director, said that while there is currently a no visitors policy, case managers are “encouraged” to meet with residents. “It is unlikely that a case manager with proper identification would not be allowed into a site,” Lee wrote in an email responding to Lex’s allegations. As for the kitchen, Lee said that the camp does have propane tanks up to the maximum allowed by the Seattle Fire Department and that, if those tanks run out, residents can request refills from staff at any time. The same is true for plates and silverware; campers can request more from staff. She added that every site maintains a one-month stock of supplies to avoid running out.
Lex admits to throwing a plastic trash can at the security hut, one of the more violent instances on the list, after getting into a dispute over laundry access. She wanted to sign up for the first opening, at 6 a.m. but was told she couldn’t because a new signup sheet hadn’t been printed. Later, when she asked camp staff to let her into the laundry room, they said, “No, we can’t. You’re not on the list.”
Another of Lex’s complaints was that the camp did not enforce its clean and sober policy, nor did it offer as much mental health support and case management as advertised. Lex’s assigned case manager, she said, had canceled two appointments at the time they were supposed to meet, for example, and had been difficult to work with when Lex needed to reschedule two others.
“I was just busy doing stuff, and I’m here, they have my phone number,” she said. “Did they attempt to call? Did they attempt to come find me? No.”
The most violent allegation — chasing a fellow resident with a machete — was completely misrepresented, she said.
“What had happened was another program participant and myself had become buddies. Then the other program participant and myself became unbuddies, because drugs make people ugly,” she said.
Lex said things boiled over when her former friend ended up barging into her tiny home to confront Lex over their differences.
“I’ve known this person all of three months, at this point,” Lex said. After a few minutes, Lex was able to get her ex-friend to physically leave the house, albeit with some serious resistance. At that point, Lex was afraid for her safety, she said.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do. So, I just picked up my machete, which was on my little shoe rack by the door. And I pick it up, and I’m just holding it. I’m holding it, I’m in my doorway or I’m on my top step. Never did I go any farther than that. Never did I brandish it,” she said.
“It was absolutely self defense, because I was in my own home,” she argued.
Lee said that, while she could not discuss the particulars of individual residents due to client confidentiality, “[We] can assure you that the prohibited use of drugs and alcohol in common area spaces are enforced.” Residents who violate that policy would likely be disciplined and eventually evicted themselves, she added.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Lex said. “I have violated their quote-unquote policies but received no notification of said policies. And also, every violation I’ve had was either a lie or a protected First Amendment activity. Free speech.”
Lee contested Lex’s version of events, saying that Lex had been given access to her things immediately upon eviction and that she had been repeatedly notified of being in violation of the camp’s code of conduct. Notices of violation were delivered to Lex on March 17, April 4 and May 5, Lee said.
Lee added that Lex missed four case management appointments while the case manager missed one because they were helping another client move.
Lee did note that, after the final incident, in which Lex was accused of breaking the front gate, management called the police and had Lex trespassed. Lee could not confirm whether Lex’s stuff was inside or outside the camp at that point.
Lee said that, regardless of Lex’s version of events, she was asked to leave because she made staff and residents feel unsafe and abused.
“I think we gave her plenty of opportunity, plenty of notices. We tried to meet with her. And the situation just got worse and worse,” Lee said.
That is, of course, her organization’s prerogative. Because of the way LIHI’s camps are set up, residents are not actually residents and are not entitled to the same (or any) eviction protections as typical renters.
A friend of Lex’s who still lives in the camp summed up the situation for campers thusly: “It’s really bothersome and problematic, in my opinion, that they choose to have this special custom-built system that allows them to do an end-run around basic fucking tenant rights that they’ve given to everybody in the state by law.”
On Jan. 18, a coalition of mutual aid groups led by North Seattle Neighbors sent an open letter to LIHI complaining about a lack of fairness and transparency in the exit process for camp residents, plus a laundry list of other complaints.
LIHI does allow evicted residents to appeal the decision, although Lex said she had been given no information about how to start that process. Lee wrote, “Anyone who is exited from the Shelter Program is served the Exit Letter that outlines the reason for the exit, along with a copy of the exit and appeals process. Additionally, program participants are given a copy of the grievance policy, exit and appeals policy, and a copy of the Code of Conduct upon intake.”
Lex maintained, as of May 30, that she had been given no information on the appeals process. Lex also alleged that, upon eviction, she’d been given no counseling on where to go next, something Lee said her organization does as a matter of policy when they ask someone to leave their camps.
In this case, Lee said, they didn’t do it because it didn’t seem like Lex wanted them to.
“If it wasn’t this crazy, we would normally make arrangements and say, ‘Here’s another option,’” Lee said. “But I think in this case, things escalated so quickly, right? Where she was saying she was going to call the police, she was going to call her attorney. And basically all along, even in the meetings with the case managers, she did not want help. She wanted to do everything her own way.”
Lex is definitely someone who does things her own way, her friend said.
“She doesn’t give a fuck about being polite about the fact that they’re doing things they’re not allowed to do,” he said. “She hasn’t been in any way discriminatory about the way she does things, but she’s going to do what she does and if you get in the way, she’s going to fucking tell you about it.”
As messy as the situation is, there is a small silver lining to it: Lex reconnected with Wyn and got her stuff back mostly intact (although she said her coffee was dumped into Wyn’s litter box). But what’s next?
She wants her spot back — and then some.
“I do. I want my spot back,” she said. “I want [Sharon’s] job, and I want every LIHI-employed manager of all these tiny house villages to lose their jobs as managers. No more. It’s going to be a resident manager from within their own place. That’s what I want.”
Lex complained that LIHI staff “treat us like inmates [or] patients.”
At the end of the day, she said, the villages should be run by their residents, because the residents have more at stake.
“It’s our community,” Lex said. “You work here; we live here. Don’t tell me this ain’t my home.”
Read more of the May 31-June 6, 2023 issue.